Saturday, September 20, 2008
Saturday dawned clear, cloudless, calm and cool. It was 45 degrees when I left home, so I layered on a few old shirts and wore wool gloves for the first time this season. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I planned a quick trip to Hobbs Hill for breakfast. I pedaled the single speed up to the Kettle Trail near the intersection of Moose Hill Parkway and Upland Road. This wide, inviting trail had been beckoning to me for the past few weeks every time I drove over the hill. As I would drive by, I’d think of the quiet times I’d spent sitting and thinking and I yearned to go back. I wanted to enjoy a few minutes of peaceful reflection away from the worries of the world.
I pushed the bike far enough down the trail to be invisible from the street and headed down the trail. I paused at the yellow birch that drops its golden leaves before all the other trees, scattering a golden throw-rug across the footpath and noticed it was already starting to change color.
Crossing the boardwalk across the swamp that is the source of one of the headwater streams of Beaver Brook, I looked at the tall, green ferns that carpet the muck. I’m still not sure if they’re cinnamon ferns or ostrich ferns and I thought about how much easier it is to learn how to identify things in the natural world from a knowledgeable companion than it is struggling alone with a field guide. The Audubon sanctuary offered a fern walk last year, but it was canceled for lack of interest. I know a few people had signed up, but I guess they have a rather rigorous way of gauging interest.
On the other side of the swamp I went right on the Hobbs Hill Loop, heading for my usual breakfast spot. There is a flat-topped granite erratic poised on the brink of the steep easterly slope of the hill that affords nice views of a flat area in the forest below and treetops of oaks and hickories that rise from there. I like to sit there and gaze down through the forest, waiting for the small dramas that Moose Hill so often provides. While waiting for the show to begin I try to open my mind to thoughts that drift up through the trees.
On this morning the woods were quiet and still. Sunshine hitting the hillside warmed the air just enough so that gently rising currents caused fine strands of spider silk suspended between the trees - and illuminated by the same clean light - to flex and wave. I thought about how this energy from the sun flows through our world and gives us everything, really, from the water cycle, to weather, to erosion and deposition, to life itself. I pondered how fossil fuel is also solar energy that has been stored away for eons. I started thinking about how the energy we release from this storehouse of power also flows through our world, bringing us many things as well, both good and bad. I told myself to stop thinking about that. Friends and family tell me I’ve become boring and depressing with all this talk of collapse and long emergencies. They’re right, of course. No one else wonders why NASCAR drivers race on in the name of Jesus Christ while the greatest transfer of wealth in history in the form of oil money flows from America to countries that hate us. Why should these things bother me?
Just as I was starting to consider how the sun is really a giant nuclear reactor and maybe nuclear energy was really a way to tap into the energy of the cosmos without the carbon middleman, a shadow flashed across the forest floor. Working upward and backward from shadow to sunshine, I found first one, and then a small flock of blue jays high in the oak trees. Never silent for long, these birds soon started squabbling over acorns. Chipmunks started up a rhythmic clucking, a red squirrel chattered in the distance, and gray squirrels did some squabbling of their own. This was becoming the morning of the acorn eaters.
Somewhere from the little flat at the base of the hill, I heard a steady clacking of large nuts hitting limbs as they fell to the ground, thudding on the forest floor. I could see gray squirrels working high in the branches and I wondered if they were smart enough to be cutting hickory nuts loose and picking them up from the ground later. Recent battles with these critters around the house taught me not to underestimate their capabilities. I started thinking think about what would happen if some clever squirrel invented sub-prime acorn mortgages that could be securitized, chopped up and sold so he wouldn’t have to deal with all this bothersome collecting and hoarding and leave all that to squirrel litters yet to be born, but I reminded myself to stop thinking that way.
It was time to get moving, anyway, so I packed my bag and took the trail around and down the back side of Hobbs Hill and started looking for that big hickory. I didn’t find it, but noticed a concentration of deer droppings and an area of disturbed forest floor under a white oak. Red and black oaks predominate on Moose Hill but we do have a smattering of white oaks. I imagine that deer and other mast eaters seek these out for the sweeter acorns they produce. I found one on the ground, peeled off the shell and ate it. It was nutty and entirely palatable. I recalled that natives collected white oak acorns, boiled them and ground them into flour. I thought about how hard life could be without the benefits of modern civilization and wondered why we couldn’t enjoy those benefits without the accompanying burdens until I reminded myself that there were more fun things to think about, like the up-coming fall TV schedule or the brand new NFL season. If someone would just invite me to an f-ing tailgate party, I too could be a care-free shit-faced Pats fan and stop thinking about all this depressing crap that’s making me crazy.
There may be real things to worry about in this troubled world of ours. Just this week after speech by our President reassuring us that his administration was busily preventing the collapse of our entire economy, a TV commentator felt moved to refer to the leader of the free world as a “high-functioning moron.” (You can find that on YouTube.) But who am I to worry that our next Vice President seems reasonably well suited to be the leader of a community college pep squad? Clearly, there’s nothing I can do or say that would change anything, so why not accept my true role as happy idiot. Simpletons, after all, never get ulcers.
No, perhaps next time I go to Moose Hill, I should eat some mushrooms. After all, Timothy Leary wrote that the peace and wisdom of the universe can be found among those who look at sunsets, those who walk in the woods, and people who sit by the fire. That’s all I really want to do anyway. Maybe I’ll stick with things like that.